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F The Patriarchy: Femininity & Sexuality With Christy Flaherty

Christy Flaherty is a self-taught cinematic portrait photographer examining themes of femininity and sexuality. November 1st, Christy will show her first solo exhibition titled “Femme Fatale” that centers around art disrupted gender norms. We caught up with her to discuss the intentional message behind her work, feminism in art, and she answers the question of what is the “perfect body”. Check out our conversation below.

Who are you?

I’m a self-taught cinematic portrait photographer born and living in Augusta, Georgia.

Your work is intentional, relevant, and provocative in the best way. When did you decide that this was the work that you wanted to share with the world? Overall, what would that message be?

I’ve taken portraits of women for as long as I can remember really, but I always held back a little because of my age and for fear of what everyone would think. But in the past couple of years, I finally stopped worrying about others and just went for it. I’m drawn to the boundaries that exist for women between femininity and sexuality — and exploring where those lines get blurry.

What’s so intriguing about your work is the many ways you’ve found to photograph the body. I’ve been scrolling through your Instagram for a couple of days and I’ve yet to see the “same” photo twice. What inspires you currently? Where do your ideas come from?

While I’m definitely guilty of staying in my comfort zone, I still try to never do the same thing twice. So that’s really cool that you noticed that. I think that’s what keeps me going: challenging myself to experiment and try something new.

I was exposed to so many great films, music, and books as a kid. Reading Stephen King and watching Wes Craven movies specifically made me want to create my own stories. So I would write my own little horror stories, whip up some fake blood, and direct my younger sister and friends in acting out these roles. I’ve always loved developing characters and seeing them come to life. And I think that experience has just evolved and matured into a more artistic outlet for me as an adult.

The same things that inspired me twenty years ago still inspire me today: great films, compelling stories, soundtracks, interesting lighting, and fun people.

Feminist art is so important, and I hate that it can be interpreted in any other way. Have you received any backlash for some of your images? If so, how have you dealt with it?

Oh yeah – and any backlash I can think of has come from men (which is telling I think). I’ve seen how one nude image of a woman can be screenshot and circulated to the point of that model asking me to take it down. That’s happened multiple times, these women feeling proud and confident that they’ve created something really unique and beautiful and having that turned into shame and guilt in less than a day – that’s really dark.

But I have a ton of support too. I have people stop me on the streets telling me they “love my work” or they “love how I portray women” — so that’s really rewarding.

Both the positive and negative experiences show me why art that challenges the male gaze is still very important — why I need to continue pushing boundaries and force people to confront what makes them uncomfortable and ask “why?”

What is your idea of the “perfect body”?

While we have the “body positivity movement” — it’s still almost impossible to escape the unrealistic standards society has laid out for women. I’m always working through my own insecurities but I think it helps me to celebrate other women – of all colors and of all sizes.

How would you explain the feminist movement for those who don’t understand it? There are so many misconceptions out there that women brand themselves as feminist as an excuse to be naked, or express themselves as sexual beings but it’s so much more than that.

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This is a loaded question and I don’t think I can answer it in a couple of sentences. To put it simply, it all comes down to expectations, boundaries, and equality — and challenging those boxes we’ve put each other in.

“Body positivity is a scam.” Those are words from an article I read on Vox highlighting the use of different body types in ad campaigns as a way of catching on to a trend to sell you something. Do you think these ads are more helpful or harmful to women? Why or why not?

Companies are definitely profiting off of these movements and some are in it for the wrong reasons. But inclusivity is good. This shift is valuable for lots of people – not just women. Victoria’s Secret vs. SAVAGE X FENTY is a great example of this.

What can you tell me about Femme Fatale? What can we expect from your first solo exhibition?

I decided to use the ‘femme fatale’ trope as the title of my exhibition because it really encapsulates what I’m trying to capture in my work — something cinematic, dangerous, and unapologetic.

This archetype in literature and art disrupted gender norms by providing women the space to exist beyond the typical bounds of womanhood. A woman could be sexual, she could be a villain — she could be flawed. The ‘femme fatale’ shirks conventional morality and dismisses motherhood and wifehood as her natural role. She rejects the notion that women are innately good or nurturing. She subverts femininity to exploit it.

My exhibition will feature my favorite portraits I’ve created over the past few years — large scale prints, VHS video work, and a soundtrack of songs from movies that I love – it’s going to be a fun night!

You can keep up with Christy on Instagram @xinelaine

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